On October 23, 2017, a Medal of Honor will be received by a Green Beret medic whose actions over a four day period in 1971 made it possible for all but three of his men to survive a harrowing and very important mission into Laos.
At the time, Gary Michael Rose was a Sgt. and the only medic for a 120-man Studies and Observation (SOG) team assigned with a multi-pronged task of going deep into Laos to distract the NVA and to draw significant numbers of their forces away from Hmong tribal battalions who were trying to retake southern Laos from the North Vietnamese as well as to gather information about NVA troop movements and to find and destroy whatever supply lines and or stores as they could.
By 1971 the NVA had developed the Ho Chi Minh trail so effectively that they had essentially taken southern Laos for themselves. This was a problem for the Hmong and other ethnic groups who were indigenous to the area, to the sovereignty of Laos, and for the American and South Vietnam forces in South Vietnam. The mission was called “Operation Tailwind” and consisted of 120 men.
The SOG team was led by American Green Berets non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and Chinese Nungs and Montagnards soldiers from Laos and Vietnam.
The group knew the mission was going to be rough and it was, right from the beginning. The helicopters that were bringing them to their insertion point began taking heavy NVA fire before they even landed. Several soldiers were wounded before they even touched down.
When they were inserted, Rose took care to those who were wounded well enough that the were able to move on with the rest of the team. The captain in charge of the operation, Capt. Eugene McCarley, ordered the team to get moving immediately for fear that the NVA would start hitting them with mortar or artillery shells.
Over the next four days, the team fought continuously with the NVA taking more and more casualties, which medic Rose took care of, even while the others rested and ate when they could. When dawn came on the second day nine of the sixteen Americans in the team had been wounded and even more of the Montagnards. Because of Sgt. Rose’s medical efforts all of them were still able to fight as they kept on the move, staying ahead of the pursuing NVA. By the end of the second day, 24 of the team had been injured. CH-53 choppers were called in to medevac the wounded. The first two were hit and damaged, but a third was able to get in and take out the wounded.
Those who remained in the field continued the mission, still in regular and constant contact with the enemy. Rose on several occasions ran into and through enemy fire to take care of his wounded men, sometimes working on as many as five at a time. That night while getting a brief respite, the team was hit by an RPG round, which injured Rose himself and all hell again broke loose.
Rose, disregarding his own injury crawled through enemy fire to help two of his wounded Montagnards.
By the third day, the number of wounded in the team had risen to 49 with Rose continuing to do all he could to keep up with all of them. But the team was doing damage to the NVA too. On that third day they made their most important find. They happened upon a cache of hundreds of pounds of NVA documents, loaded them up and took them with them. These would prove to be the largest, most valuable intelligence seizure of the Vietnam War.
Their mission completed, they still had to get out of there. They had to abandon two landing zones (LZs) because of heavy NVA attacks on their positions. The helicopters that had come for the extraction of the team were running out of fuel, but they were finally able to pick up the remaining team members and “get out of Dodge.”
In the end, because of Sgt. Rose’s medical skills and bravery, his company B SOG team had lost only three of the Montagnards. Thirty-three of the other Montagnards and 16 of the Americans had been wounded.
Sgt. Gary Michael Rose was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross in 1971 for his actions over those four days. But on October 23, 2017, that medal will be upgraded to a Medal of Honor at the White House. The entire SOG team received a Presidential Unit Citation in 2002, which equates to a Distinguished Service Cross for every Green Beret who served with the team. Sgt. Rose retired from the US Army at the rank of Captain.
Rose, who is 69 years old, in the typical manner of so many of those awarded the Medal of Honor feels that this MOH is for all the soldiers that served in MACV SOG teams during that war and that it represents the courage and honor of those men.
The Veterans Site sends its respect and thanks to Captain Gary Michael Rose. Your courage and commitment to your men in the most difficult of circumstances is inspiring to all.
Hoorah, good soldier!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.